“I think I ski better than you,” my daughter told me the other day.
“What makes you say that?” I asked, attempting to discreetly remove the icicle that had jammed up my left nostril a few moments earlier, when I ploughed into a snow drift.
“You fall down more than I do.”
It’s true. I attribute it to spending the first 40 years of my life somewhere very hot and very flat. But I’m trying hard to overcome that early hurdle and, when we arrived in Switzerland, I went all out to set an enthusiastic example for the children.
“How much fun is this?” I whooped through gritted teeth, as we snowploughed down mountainsides.
“Was that great or what?” I trilled at the bottom, hoping my rictus of fear would pass for an endorphin-drenched smile.
And it worked – on the seven-year-old, at any rate. She loves skiing and she’s good at it. But unfortunately I never fell for my own propaganda, and skiing still gives me the horrors. So why on earth I agreed to go down a blue slope with the child last weekend, I have no idea.
“You have been on a chair lift before, right?” I asked, as we stood waiting in line for one of those wretched chariots of death.
She looked bored. “Lots of times.”
“Just make sure you don’t lean forward on the bar,” I warned, keeping an anxious eye on the progress of the chair. “And lift your skis when you get to the top. And tuck your scarf into your jacket so it doesn’t catch on anything. And definitely don’t fall over when you get off because I can’t help you.”
“I’m not going to fall over. And I don’t need help.”
“Also, don’t get in front of me. I can’t steer that well and my braking is unreliable,” I went on, positioning my skis properly and bracing myself for the speed-waddle to the chair’s runway.
She wasn’t even listening. She was facing the wrong way, helmet unbuckled, poking icicles off a railing with her ski pole.
“What are you doing?” I panicked. “Why aren’t you getting into position for the chair?”
“Mom,” she sighed. “We’re not even at the front of the queue yet.”
Well, we made it to the top with no mishaps, and the child hopped off the chair and pointed herself straight at what looked like a precipice.
“I’ll be fine,” I called after her. “See you at the bottom.”
And as I lay there in front of the lift, trying to disentangle my skis from my poles, I thought, this is what parenting is, isn’t it? Giving them wings so they can fly away; putting an enormous amount of time, money and emotional effort into growing them up so that one day they’ll leave you behind, in a crumpled heap, with everyone pointing at you.
“I do ski better than you,” she said again, when I met her at the bottom, but this time the look on her little face told me that she felt the same way about this fact as I did: proud and anxious, in equal measure.
“That may be true,” I said. “But you’re still my baby. When we get to the car would you like me to take your boots off and make you some hot chocolate?”
And after she helped me back onto my feet, that’s exactly what I did.